In Sweden, a study by researchers from Sweden and Hungary shows that white, painted stripes on the body protect skin from insect bites. It is the first time researchers have successfully shown that body-painting has this effect. Among indigenous peoples who wear body-paint, the markings thus provide a certain protection against insect-borne diseases.
Most of the indigenous communities who paint their bodies live in areas where there is an abundance of bloodsucking horseflies, mosquitoes or tsetse flies. When these insects bite people there is a risk of bacteria, parasites and other pathogens being transferred.
The study shows that body-painting provides protection against the insects. A brown plastic model of a human attracted ten times as many horseflies as a dark model painted with white stripes. The researchers also found that a beige-coloured plastic figure used as a control model attracted twice as many bloodsuckers as the striped model.
According to Susanne Åkesson, professor at Lund University’s Department of Biology, “Body-painting began long before humans started to wear clothes. There are archaeological finds that include markings on the walls of caves where Neanderthals lived. They suggest that they had been body-painted with earth pigments such as ochre.”